Which airline is going to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda? What we know

Rishi Sunk has said Rwanda deportation flights will begin in 10-12 weeks. Here's what we know so far about how the scheme will work.

AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE - JUNE 14: Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022 in Boscombe Down. The Court of Appeal yesterday rejected a legal bid to stop a Home Office flight taking asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 was grounded in June 2022 after an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. (Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak has said it will be another 10 to 12 weeks before the first plane carrying asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda will take off under a new deportation scheme with the country.

After that, there will be “multiple flights a month through the summer and beyond," the prime minister told a press conference on Monday.

Blaming the House of Lords for delaying his bill by putting forward amendments he said "enough is enough" as he said MPs and peers would sit through the night on Monday if necessary to get the bill off the ground.

He said an airfield is already on "stand-by" and that commercial charter planes have been booked “for specific slots".

However, he was keen not to give away too many operational details to reporters due to the risk of obstruction by protesters. It follows reports that one charter airline, AirTanker, is being lined up to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Here, Yahoo News explains what we know - and what we don't know - about AirTanker's potential involvement in the flights.

What is AirTanker?

AirTanker is a company registered in England and Wales with a fleet of 14 Airbus A330 MRTT multi-role tanker transport aircraft.

While the company offers civil leasing of its planes, the RAF is one of its main customers having signed a 27-year contract with the Ministry of Defence in 2008 to deliver and support its tanker aircraft, which operate as Voyager while in RAF service.

"As well as aircraft delivery we are responsible for all aspects of Voyager’s operation from crew training and maintenance through to dispatch," it says on its website.

What did they say in 2022

In June 2022, not long before the first Rwanda flight was grounded following and intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, human rights charity Freedom From Torture approached AirTanker.

"We know you have previously played a role in UK government deportations but this time you could do the right thing," the charity said in an email to the firm's COO Paul Kimberley.

In a response, seen by Yahoo News, Kimberley says: "Thank you for your message. In response, I can confirm that we have no plans to operate flights to Rwanda."

Why are they back under the spotlight?

Campaigners at Freedom from Torture claim they made repeated calls and sent emails to AirTanker earlier this year about their potential involvement and were met with silence.

Freedom From Torture called on AirTanker to reiterate its stance this year, even showing up to its offices in person. The group has told Yahoo News it is yet to receive a response.

An open letter by the charity, calling on AirTanker not to "end up on the wrong side of history" has received over 28,000 signatures.

What does it say now?

Yahoo News has made repeated attempts to contact AirTanker on this but has had no response so far.

When asked if the government has an airline in place on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell said: "We have robust operational arrangements in place."

He said the prime minister would set out how the operation would work in greater detail at a press conference later that morning, but Sunak was still scarce on details when asked.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference in Downing Street, London. Mr Sunak will urge peers to back his Rwanda plan ahead of crunch votes on the legislation aimed at making the plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda legally watertight. Picture date: Monday April 22, 2024.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak said he expects flights to get off the ground in 10 to 12 weeks. (Alamy)

"I can confirm that we’ve put an airfield on standby, booked commercial charter planes for specific slots and we have 500 highly trained individuals ready to escort illegal migrants all the way to Rwanda, with 300 more trained in the coming weeks," he told reporters.

When asked about the number of people who would be taken away and any airlines involved, he said he wouldn't go into detail due to a loud minority of people who will do absolutely anything and everything to disrupt this policy from succeeding”.

He said there will be a “regular rhythm” of “multiple flights a month through the summer and beyond”.

Read more